Unknown to history a st.., p.42

Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland, page 42


Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland

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  In due time the boat drew up at the stairs leading to the palace ofRichmond. Cicely, in the midst of her trepidation, perceived thatDiccon was among the gentlemen pensioners who made a lane from thelanding to receive them, as she was handed along by M. de Bellievre. Inthe hall there was a pause, during which the mufflings were thrown off,and Cicely appeared in her simple black, a great contrast to hercavalier, who was clad from neck to knee in pale pink satin, quilted,and with a pearl at each intersection, earrings in his ears, perfumedand long-fringed gloves in his hand--a perfect specimen of the fopperyof the Court of France. However, he might have been in hodden graywithout her perceiving it. She had the sensation of having plungedinto deep, unknown waters, without rope or plank, and being absolutelyforced to strike out for herself; yet the very urgency of the moment,acting on her high blood and recent training, made her, outwardly,perfectly self-possessed and calm. She walked along, holding her headin the regal manner that was her inheritance, and was so utterlyabsorbed in the situation that she saw nothing, and thought only of theQueen.

  This was to be a private audience, and after a minute's demur with theclerk of the chamber, when Chateauneuf made some explanation, a doorwas opened, a curtain withdrawn, and the two ambassadors and the younglady were admitted to Elizabeth's closet, where she sat alone, in anarm-chair with a table before her. Cicely's first glance at the Queenreminded her of the Countess, though the face was older, and had anintellect and a grandeur latent in it, such as Bess of Hardwicke hadnever possessed; but it was haggard and worn, the eyelids red, eitherwith weeping, or with sleeplessness, and there was an anxious lookabout the keen light hazel eyes which was sometimes almost pathetic,and gave Cicely hope. To the end of her days she never could recollecthow the Queen was arrayed; she saw nothing but the expression in thosefalcon eyes, and the strangely sensitive mouth, which bewrayed theshrewish nose and chin, and the equally inconsistent firmness of thejaw.

  The first glance Cicely encountered was one of utter amazement andwrath, as the Queen exclaimed, "Whom have you brought hither,Messieurs?"

  Before either could reply, she, whom they had thought a raw, helplessgirl, moved forward, and kneeling before Elizabeth said, "It is I, soplease your Majesty, I, who have availed myself of the introduction oftheir Excellencies to lay before your Majesty a letter from my mother,the Queen of Scots."

  Queen Elizabeth made so vehement and incredulous an exclamation ofamazement that Cicely was the more reminded of the Countess, and thisperhaps made her task the easier, and besides, she was not an untrainedrustic, but had really been accustomed to familiar intercourse with aqueen, who, captive as she was, maintained full state and etiquette.

  She therefore made answer with dignity, "If it will please your Majestyto look at this letter, you will see the proofs of what I say, and thatI am indeed Bride Hepburn, the daughter of Queen Mary's last marriage.I was born at Lochleven on the 20th of February of the year of grace1567," (footnote--1568 according to our calendar) "and thence secretlysent in the Bride of Dunbar to be bred up in France. The ship waswrecked, and all lost on board, but I was, by the grace of God, pickedup by a good and gallant gentleman of my Lord of Shrewsbury'sfollowing, Master Richard Talbot of Bridgefield, who brought me up ashis own daughter, all unknowing whence I came or who I was, until threeyears ago, when one of the secret agents who had knowledge of theaffairs of the Queen of Scots made known to her that I was the babe whohad been embarked in the Bride of Dunbar."

  "Verily, thou must be a bold wench to expect me to believe such a mereminstrel's tale," said Elizabeth.

  "Nevertheless, madam, it is the simple truth, as you will see if youdeign to open this packet."

  "And who or where is this same honourable gentleman who brought youup--Richard Talbot? I have heard that name before!"

  "He is here, madam. He will confirm all I say."

  The Queen touched a little bell, and ordered Master Talbot ofBridgefield to be brought to her, while, hastily casting her eyes onthe credentials, she demanded of Chateauneuf, "Knew you aught of this,sir?"

  "I know only what the Queen of Scotland has written and what thisMonsieur Talbot has told me, madam," said Chateauneuf. "There can beno doubt that the Queen of Scotland has treated her as a daughter, andowns her for such in her letter to me, as well as to your Majesty."

  "And the letters are no forgery?"

  "Mine is assuredly not, madam; I know the private hand of the Queen ofScots too well to be deceived. Moreover, Madame Curll, the wife of theSecretary, and others, can speak to the manner in which this young ladywas treated."

  "Openly treated as a daughter! That passes, sir. My faithful subjectswould never have left me uninformed!"

  "So please your Majesty," here the maiden ventured, "I have alwaysborne the name of Cicely Talbot, and no one knows what is my real birthsave those who were with my mother at Lochleven, excepting Mrs. Curll.The rest even of her own attendants only understood me to be a Scottishorphan. My true lineage should never have been known, were it not adaughter's duty to plead for her mother."

  By this time Mr. Talbot was at the door, and he was received by theQueen with, "So ho! Master Talbot, how is this? You, that have beenvaunted to us as the very pink of fidelity, working up a tale thatsmacks mightily of treason and leasing!"

  "The truth is oft stranger than any playwright can devise," saidRichard, as he knelt.

  "If it be truth, the worse for you, sir," said the Queen, hotly. "Whatcolour can you give to thus hiding one who might, forsooth, claim royalblood, tainted though it be?"

  "Pardon me, your Grace. For many years I knew not who the babe waswhom I had taken from the wreck, and when the secret of her birth wasdiscovered, I deemed it not mine own but that of the Queen of Scots."

  "A captive's secrets are not her own, and are only kept by traitors,"said Elizabeth, severely.

  At this Cicely threw herself forward with glowing cheeks. "Madam,madam, traitor never was named in the same breath with Master Talbot'sname before. If he kept the secret, it was out of pity, and knowing nohurt could come to your Majesty by it."

  "Thou hast a tongue, wench, be thou who thou mayst," said Elizabethsharply. "Stand back, and let him tell his own tale."

  Richard very briefly related the history of the rescue of the infant,which he said he could confirm by the testimony of Goatley and ofHeatherthwayte. He then explained how Langston had been present whenshe was brought home, and had afterwards made communications to theQueen of Scots that led to the girl, already in attendance on her,being claimed and recognised; after which he confessed that he had notthe heart to do what might separate the mother and daughter bydeclaring their relationship. Elizabeth meanwhile was evidentlycomparing his narrative with the letters of the Queen of Scots, askingsearching questions here and there.

  She made a sound of perplexity and annoyance at the end, and said,"This must be further inquired into."

  Here Cicely, fearing an instant dismissal, clasped her hands, and onher knees exclaimed, "Madam! it will not matter. No trouble shall everbe caused by my drop of royal blood; no one shall ever even know thatBride of Scotland exists, save the few who now know it, and have keptthe secret most faithfully. I seek no state; all I ask is my mother'slife. O madam, would you but see her, and speak with her, you wouldknow how far from her thoughts is any evil to your royal person!"

  "Tush, wench! we know better. Is this thy lesson?"

  "None hath taught me any lesson, madam. I know what my mother'senemies have, as they say, proved against her, and I know they say thatwhile she lives your Grace cannot be in security."

  "That is what moves my people to demand her death," said Elizabeth.

  "It is not of your own free will, madam, nor of your own kind heart,"cried Cicely. "That I well know! And, madam, I will show you the way.Let but my mother be escorted to some convent abroad, in France orAustria, or anywhere beyond the reach of Spain, and her name should behidden
from everyone! None should know where to seek her. Not even theAbbess should know her name. She would be prisoned in a cell, but shewould be happy, for she would have life and the free exercise of herreligion. No English Papist, no Leaguer, none should ever trace her,and she would disquiet you no more."

  "And who is to answer that, when once beyond English bounds, she shouldnot stir up more trouble than ever?" demanded Elizabeth.

  "That do I," said the girl. "Here am I, Bride Hepburn, ready to livein your Majesty's hands as a hostage, whom you might put to death atthe first stirring on her behalf."

  "Silly maid, we have no love of putting folk to death," said Elizabeth,rather hurt. "That is only for traitors, when they forfeit our mercy."

  "Then, O madam, madam, what has been done in her name cannot forfeitmercy for her! She was shut up in prison; I was with her day andnight, and I know she had naught to do with any evil purpose towardsyour Majesty. Ah! you do not believe me! I know they have found herguilty, and that is not what I came to say," she continued, gettingbewildered in her earnestness for a moment. "No. But, gracious Queen,you have spared her often; I have heard her say that you had again andagain saved her life from those who would fain have her blood."

  "It is true," said Elizabeth, half softened.

  "Save her then now, madam," entreated the girl. "Let her go beyondtheir reach, yet where none shall find her to use her name against you.Let me go to her at Fotheringhay with these terms. She will consentand bless and pray for you for ever; and here am I, ready to do whatyou will with me!"

  "To hang about Court, and be found secretly wedded to some base groom!"

  "No, madam. I give you my solemn word as a Queen's daughter that Iwill never wed, save by your consent, if my mother's life be granted.The King of Scots knows not that there is such a being. He need neverknow it. I will thank and bless you whether you throw me into theTower, or let me abide as the humblest of your serving-women, under thename I have always borne, Cicely Talbot."

  "Foolish maid, thou mayest purpose as thou sayest, but I know whatwenches are made of too well to trust thee."

  "Ah madam, pardon me, but you know not how strong a maiden's heart canbe for a mother's sake. Madam! you have never seen my mother. If youbut knew her patience and her tenderness, you would know how not onlyI, but every man or woman in her train, would gladly lay down life andliberty for her, could we but break her bonds, and win her a shelteramong those of her own faith."

  "Art a Papist?" asked the Queen, observing the pronoun.

  "Not so, an't please your Majesty. This gentleman bred me up in ourown Church, nor would I leave it."

  "Strange--strange matters," muttered Elizabeth, "and they need to beduly considered."

  "I will then abide your Majesty's pleasure," said Cicely, "cravinglicense that it may be at Fotheringhay with my mother. Then can I bearher the tidings, and she will write in full her consent to these terms.O madam, I see mercy in your looks. Receive a daughter's blessing andthanks!"

  "Over fast, over fast, maiden. Who told thee that I had consented?"

  "Your Majesty's own countenance," replied Cicely readily. "I see pityin it, and the recollection that all posterity for evermore will speakof the clemency of Elizabeth as the crown of all her glories!"

  "Child, child," said the Queen, really moved, "Heaven knows that Iwould gladly practise clemency if my people would suffer it, but theyfear for my life, and still more for themselves, were I removed, norcan I blame them."

  "Your Majesty, I know that. But my mother would be dead to the world,leaving her rights solemnly made over to her son. None would knowwhere to find her, and she would leave in your hands, and those of theParliament, a resignation of all her claims."

  "And would she do this? Am I to take it on thy word, girl?"

  "Your Majesty knows this ring, sent to her at Lochleven," said Cicely,holding it up. "It is the pledge that she binds herself to theseconditions. Oh! let me but bear them to her, and you shall have themsigned and sealed, and your Majesty will know the sweet bliss ofpardoning. May I carry the tidings to her? I can go with thisgentleman as Cis Talbot returning to her service."

  Elizabeth bent her head as though assenting thoughtfully.

  "How shall I thank you, gracious Queen?" cried Cicely, joining hands ina transport, but Elizabeth sharply cut her short.

  "What means the wench? I have promised nothing. I have only said Iwill look into this strange story of thine, and consider thisproposal--that is, if thy mother, as thou callest her, truly intendit--ay, and will keep to it."

  "That is all I could ask of your Majesty," said Cicely. "The nextmessenger after my return shall carry her full consent to theseconditions, and there will I abide your pleasure until the time comesfor her to be conducted to her convent, if not to see your face, whichwould be best of all. O madam, what thanks will be worthy of such agrace?"

  "Wait to see whether it is a grace, little cousin," said Elizabeth, butwith a kiss to the young round cheek, and a friendliness of tone thatsurprised all. "Messieurs," she added to the ambassadors, "you came,if I mistake not, to bring me this young demoiselle."

  "Who has, I hope, pleaded more effectually than I," returned Bellievre.

  "I have made no promises, sir," said the Queen, drawing herself upproudly.

  "Still your Majesty forbids us not to hope," said Chateauneuf.

  Wherewith they found themselves dismissed. There was a great increaseof genuine respect in the manner in which Bellievre handed the younglady from the Queen's chamber through the gallery and hall, and finallyto the boat. No one spoke, for there were many standing around, butCicely could read in a glance that passed between the Frenchmen thatthey were astonished at her success. Her own brain was in a whirl, herheart beating high; she could hardly realise what had passed, but whenagain placed in the barge the first words she heard were from Bellievre.

  "Your Royal Highness will permit me to congratulate you." At the sametime she saw, to her great joy, that M. de Chateauneuf had caused herfoster-father to enter the barge with them. "If the Queen of Scotlandwere close at hand, the game would be won," said Bellievre.

  "Ah! Milord Treasurer and M. le Secretaire are far too cunning to havelet her be within reach," said Chateauneuf.

  "Could we but have bound the Queen to anything," added Bellievre.

  "That she always knows how to avoid," said the resident ambassador.

  "At least," said Cicely, "she has permitted that I should bear theterms to my mother at Fotheringhay."

  "That is true," said Chateauneuf, "and in my opinion no time should belost in so doing. I doubt," he added, looking at Richard, "whether,now that her Highness's exalted rank is known, the embassy will bepermitted to remain a shelter to her, in case the Queen should demandher of me."

  "Your Excellency speaks my thought," said Richard. "I am even disposedto believe that it would be wiser to begin our journey this very day."

  "I grieve for the apparent inhospitality and disrespect to one whom Ihonour so highly," said Chateauneuf, "but I verily believe it would bethe wiser plan. Look you, sir, the enemies of the unfortunate Queen ofScotland have done all in their power to hinder my colleague fromseeing the Queen, but to-day the Lord Treasurer is occupied atWestminster, and Monsieur le Secretaire is sick. She sent for us inone of those wilful moods in which she chooses to assert herselfwithout their knowledge, and she remains, as it were, stunned by thesurprise, and touched by her Royal Highness's pleading. But let thesegentlemen discover what has passed, or let her recover and send forthem, and bah! they will inquire, and messengers will go forth at onceto stop her Highness and yourself. All will be lost. But if you canactually be on the way to this castle before they hear of it--and it ispossible you may have a full day in advance--they will be unable tohinder the conditions from being laid before the Queen of Scots, and weare witnesses of what they were."

  "Oh, let us go! let us go at once, dear sir," entreated Cicely. "Iburn to carry my mother this

  It was not yet noon, so early had been the audience, and dark and shortas were the days, it was quite possible to make some progress on thejourney before night. Cicely had kept the necessaries for her journeyready, and so had Mr. Talbot, even to the purchase of horses, whichwere in the Shrewsbury House stables.

  The rest of the mails could be fetched by the Mastiff's crew, andbrought to Hull under charge of Goatley. Madame de Salmonnet was agood deal scandalised at Son Altesse Royale going off with only a maleescort, and to Cicely's surprise, wept over her, and prayed aloud thatshe might have good success, and bring safety and deliverance to thegood and persecuted Queen for whom she had attempted so much.

  "Sir," said Chateauneuf, as he stood beside Richard, waiting till thegirl's preparations were over, "if there could have been any doubts ofthe royal lineage of your charge, her demeanour to-day would havedisproved them. She stood there speaking as an equal, all undauntedbefore that Queen before whom all tremble, save when they can cajoleher."

  "She stood there in the strength of truth and innocence," said Richard.

  Whereat the Frenchman again looked perplexed at these incomprehensibleEnglish.

  Cicely presently appeared. It was wonderful to see how that one efforthad given her dignity and womanhood. She thanked the two ambassadorsfor the countenance they had given to her, and begged them to continuetheir exertions in her mother's cause. "And," she added, "I believe mymother has already requested of you to keep this matter a secret."

  They bowed, and she added, "You perceive, gentlemen, that the veryconditions I have offered involve secrecy both as to my mother's futureabode and my existence. Therefore, I trust that you will not considerit inconsistent with your duty to the King of France to send no word ofthis."

  Again they assured her of their secrecy, and the promise was so farkept that the story was reserved for the private ear of Henri III. onBellievre's return, and never put into the despatches.

  Two days later, Cicely enjoyed some of the happiest hours of her life.She stood by the bed where her mother was lying, and was greeted withthe cry, "My child, my child! I thought I never should see thee more.Domine, nunc dimittis!"

  "Nay, dearest mother, but I trust she will show mercy. I bring youconditions."

  Mary laid her head on her daughter's shoulder and listened. It mightbe that she had too much experience of Elizabeth's vacillations toentertain much hope of her being allowed to retire beyond her graspinto a foreign convent, and she declared that she could not endure thather beloved, devoted child should wear away her life under Elizabeth'sjealous eye, but Cis put this aside, saying with a smile, "I think shewill not be hard with me. She will be no worse than my Lady Countess,and I shall have a secret of joy within me in thinking of you restingamong the good nuns."

  And Mary caught hope from the anticipations she would not damp, andgave herself to the description of the peaceful cloister life,reviewing in turn the nunneries she had heard described, and talkingover their rules. There would indeed be as little liberty as here, butshe would live in the midst of prayer and praise, and be at rest fromthe plots and plans, the hopes and fears, of her long captivity, and beat leisure for penitence. "For, ah! my child, guiltless though I be ofmuch that is laid to my charge, thy mother is a sinful woman, allunworthy of what her brave and innocent daughter has dared and done forher."

  Almost equally precious with that mother's greeting was the gravecongratulating look of approval which Cicely met in Humfrey's eyes whenhe had heard all from his father. He could exult in her, even while hethought sadly of the future which she had so bravely risked, watchingover her from a distance in his silent, self-restrained, unselfishdevotion.

  The Queen's coldness towards Humfrey had meantime diminished daily,though he could not guess whether she really viewed his course as theright one, or whether she forgave this as well as all other injuries inthe calm gentle state into which she had come, not greatly moved byhope or fear, content alike to live or die.

  Richard, in much anxiety, was to remain another day or two atFotheringhay, on the plea of his wearied horses and of the Sunday rest.

  Meantime Mary diligently wrote the conditions, but perhaps more tosatisfy her daughter than with much hope of their acceptance.

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